Saturday 20 January 2018

Jules Bianchi's father says Formula One bosses must go further with cockpit safety

Philippe Bianchi (C), the father of Jules Bianchi, and Formula 1 drivers observe a minute's silence in memoriam of late French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi
Philippe Bianchi (C), the father of Jules Bianchi, and Formula 1 drivers observe a minute's silence in memoriam of late French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi

Phil Blanche

Jules Bianchi's father Philippe feels Formula One bosses "must go further" with cockpit safety after being left unconvinced by the new Halo device.

Kimi Raikkonen became the first F1 driver to run with the Halo closed cockpit system during Thursday morning's testing in Spain.

Raikkonen tested the driver's visibility of the Halo for two laps at the Circuit de Catalunya - the first time the system has been seen on an F1 car during a public session - before his Ferrari team removed the installation.

"Obviously it's a slightly different view, we're a bit limited in the front, but I don't think it's the final version - so surprisingly little difference," Raikkonen said after testing.

"[Vision is] a bit limited in the front, but I'm not sure if it's the final version either, so it can change."

The Halo, which features a single column down the centre, is designed to shield drivers from flying debris and prevent the sort of accident which killed Henry Surtees last summer.

Surtees, the son of 1964 world champion John, was killed after he was hit on the crash helmet by an errant tyre while competing in a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch.

F1 driver Bianchi also succumbed to the devastating injuries he sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix in July, although it is not believed improved head protection would have saved the Frenchman.

But Bianchi's father says the Halo device does not provide a total fix for the dangers of an open cockpit and called on the F1's governing body, the FIA, to do more when it comes to driver-safety.

"I consider that this is a step forward in terms of security," Bianchi told French television channel Canal+.

"It is obvious that in the case of when a wheel comes off, this system would be effective.

"However, in the case of small debris, as Felipe Massa and Justin Wilson (the Indycar star who was killed last August) had, that wouldn't have changed anything.

"So this is a step forward, but it does not solve everything."

Bianchi says such a concept would not have helped his son in his accident at Suzuka in October 2014.

"For Jules, it would not have changed nothing, because it's the extremely violent deceleration that caused the damage that we know to his brain," Bianchi said.

"I think developments of the HANS system to better absorb big deceleration in a severe impact could help in this case.

"This is obviously not me who would raise myself against something that brings more security to drivers, but the version of this Halo system did not convince me and has yet to be perfected.

"Aesthetically, it's pretty bad, and I wonder what the driver gets to see behind the Halo.

"The FIA wished to act after Jules's and Justin's accidents, but it must go further."

The governing body has explored a number of designs aimed at protecting drivers from flying debris after Massa was struck by a spring from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

F1 race director Charlie Whiting told teams earlier this year that the FIA were making sure the Halo - a concept originally developed by Mercedes - was in place for next season.

"The Halo is currently the preferred solution among a number being considered by Formula One racing's governing body, the FIA, for potential introduction in 2017, in order to offer better protection for the driver's head," reported after Raikkonen's test run.

The FIA say the proximity of the single, central strut to the driver is such that it should have minimal effect on visibility.

But while most drivers are pushing for improved driver head protection, there are some concerns in the paddock over the halo-shaped loop.

"I think we need to be careful not to go away from what Formula One has always been, which is an open cockpit," said Briton Jolyon Palmer, who will make his grand prix debut for Renault at the season opener in Australia on March 20.

"It is important to be able to identify the driver, and I think that is a nice touch from the sporting side.

"Rather than just seeing a car go round you can at least see the driver in it, so we have to be careful on that. I am not unhappy with how it is at the moment."

Raikkonen, without the Halo, actually set the fastest time on his final day in the car, with two eye-catching laps just before the lunch break.

The first, a 1min 23.009 seconds lap on soft tyres, was 0.013 seconds quicker than Mercedes' best on the same compound.

Raikkonen then switched to the quicker ultrasoft tyre and clocked a new outright fastest lap this winter of 1:22.765.

Mercedes ended day three only fifth on the time sheet as first Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton concentrated on longer runs on the slower medium tyre.

Rosberg completed 81 laps in the morning, clocking a best time of 1:23.126, before Hamilton took over and added 63 more. The world champion did not set a representative time, meaning he finished a lowly 11th.

"In many ways we could have done faster laps times if we wanted and slightly more running," Raikkonen said.

"It was one of the best days we managed to do, not any issues."

Press Association

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